Keely Hodgkinson takes gold with classy run in European 800m
The giant rainbow over the Munich skyline moments before Keely Hodgkinson’s third major 800m final of the summer proved the sweetest of omens. Two minutes later, Britain’s most talented young athlete finally found her pot of gold.
Victory came with a familiar display of class and authority, the 20-year-old from Wigan striding clear with 250m to go before quickly putting the race to bed. In truth, European gold was hers long before she eased up to win in 1min 59.04sec, half a second clear of France’s Rénelle Lamote. Afterwards Hodgkinson was asked whether it was easy as it appeared. “I’m glad it looked like that,” she said, which was her polite way of saying yes.
This was another fine night for Britain at these championships, with the men’s 4x400m relay team taking gold, the women bronze, and Lizzie Bird coming third in the 3,000m steeplechase. But naturally the focus was on Hodgkinson, who won the first outdoor title of her career after two near misses in the last month.
The first had come at the world championships, when she lost to the brilliant American Athing Mu by 0.08sec. The second at the Commonwealth Games when Mary Moraa rope-a-doped her on the final lap. The third time, though, proved a charm. “I refused to walk away today without gold,” she said, breaking out into the widest of smiles.”
What also pleased Hodgkinson was that she altered her tactics, choosing instead to see how the race developed in front of her. “I wanted to do something a little bit different,” she said. “I think it might have been a bit obvious if I’d gone to the front like I have been doing all year. The last 120m I went for it and hopefully it was enough.”
As she admitted afterwards, she and her coach Trevor Painter had chatted about seven potential scenarios. “We’ll discuss A, B, C, D, E, F, G options of what could happen,” she said. “The last thing he said to me was: ‘you’ll know what to do’. Ultimately the 800m changes so much so you’ve got to be able to make decisions on the spot.”
And so she did. For a while it looked as if Jemma Reekie, who has battled glandular fever, might chase her home – but she faded badly to slip to fifth. The third Briton in the race, Alex Bell, was sixth.
“It’s extra special because my parents are here, which is really nice,” said Hodgkinson. “I’m just happy to finally be on top of the podium.”
And what an incredible 18 months it has been for Hodgkinson, who first advertised her talent in March 2021 when, just four days after her 19th birthday, she won the European Indoor title.
That made her the youngest British winner in the event for more than 50 years. Yet she barely paused for breath before smashing Kelly Holmes’s national record, winning Olympic, world and Commonwealth silver, and then taking her first major outdoor title here in Munich.
This was a night that was not only about her speed, but her guts too. Hodgkinson had admitted sleeping all the time after such a tough season. Yet she still had enough in the tank to beat the best in Europe – and in style too.
“The last two years I’ve got four major outdoor medals so I really can’t complain,” she said, before revealing she wasn’t entirely satisfied. “I was 0.08 away from being the world champion so that will play on my mind for the next year.”
Hodgkinson shook her head, however, when asked whether she would be hitting Munich to celebrate. “No, I’m going to bed,” she replied. “I’m so tired. After Zurich I’m going to go on holiday and treat myself.”
Instead, she said, her parents would be celebrating on her behalf. “They don’t get to see me too often. They didn’t come to Eugene, it was just too expensive, but they’ll be on the wine for me tonight.”
Britain’s 4x400m men’s team of Matt Hudson-Smith, Charlie Dobson, Lewis Davey and Alex Haydock-Wilson looked the clear favourites on paper – however they only just clung on to win gold in 2min 59.35sec, ahead of Belgium and France.
Meanwhile Britain’s women’s team of Victoria Ohuruogu, Ama Pipi, Jodie Williams and Nicole Yeargin finished with bronze behind the Netherlands and Poland. Victory for the Dutch also earned Femke Bol her third gold medal – making her without doubt the athlete of these championships.
Elsewhere, Lizzie Bird just about held on to take bronze behind Albania’s Luiza Gega, who won in a championship record 9min 11.31sec. Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis also posted a championship record as he jumped 6.06m to take gold in the pole vault competition, which was held in difficult conditions. Given the cold weather, Dulplantis wisely decided not to celebrate by attempting another world record.